San Francisco (1936, Directed by W.S Van Dyke) English 7

Starring Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracey, Jack Holt

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(7-Very Good Film)

Epic. Impressive. Engaging.

A midwestern girl and pastor’s daughter (MacDonald) moves to the raucous urban sprawl of 1906 San Francisco. There, she falls for the roguish club owner Blackie Norton (Gable) while being pursued by the more reliable and wealthy Jack Burley. Special effects and melodrama. An early example that I believe set the template for later classics such as Titanic. The climactic earthquake sequences are remarkable. While the surrounding drama is at times heavy-handed and somewhat hackneyed (perhaps due to age), Gable gives his strong performance as the selfish man changed by love. Tracy is excellent in essentially a supporting role (although he was nominated for the Oscar in the lead category). MacDonald is lovely as the fish out of water songstress and rising star.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(531)

A Royal Scandal (1945, Directed by Otto Preminger) English 6

Starring Tallulah Bankhead, Charles Coburn, Vincent Price, William Eythe, Anne Baxter, Sig Ruman, Mischa Auer

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(6-Good Film)

Witty. Slight. Underrated.

Tallulah Bankhead plays Catherine the Great, the titanic figure of Russian and World History, here, already established as Empress, and with a reputation for seducing many of her male subjects. A military officer, Chernoff (Eythe), discovers a plot to overthrow Catherine, and rushes to warn her. She’s already aware of the plot but decides to make Chernoff her next conquest. Meanwhile, unscrupulous but loyal Chancellor Nicolai (Coburn), does everything he can to destroy Catherine’s enemies. The whole thing is played for laughs, originally meant for the great Ernst Lubitsch who fell ill during the production. The film, no doubt, lost a great deal in the switch from Lubitsch, with his legendary “Lubitsch touch” when it comes to comedy, to Preminger, who’s a great director in his own right but worked almost exclusively in drama. Still, A Royal Scandal is handsomely made and terrifically performed, especially by Coburn and Bankhead (her own reputation mirroring Catherine’s).

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(530)

Dodsworth (1936, Directed by William Wyler) English 10

Starring Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Mary Astor, Paul Lukas, David Niven, Gregory Gaye

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(10-Masterpiece)

Mature. Intelligent. Romantic.

A literate, engaging drama about a middle-aged married couple (played by Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton) looking to start over on a trip through Europe. The two struggle, however, when the wife is pursued by handsome suitors and the husband grows bored without a job to do. Well-written and romantic classic. Huston is completely natural and note-perfect in the title role. His late-season romance with Mary Astor is one of my film favorites. Director Wyler was famous for his excruciating attention to detail, and it shows through in every scene.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(522)

 

Summer with Monika (1953, Directed by Ingmar Bergman) Swedish 5

Starring Harriet Andersson, Lars Ekborg, John Harryson, Dagmar Ebbesen

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(5-Okay Film)

Banal. Unromantic. Modest.

One of Ingmar Bergman’s earlier works and some consider it his first great film, Summer with Monika is a bleak, remote tale about a hard-working but beleaguered young man, Harry (Ekborg), who falls hard for a local beauty, Monika (Andersson), abused by her alcoholic father. They run away together, have a passionate summer together, and return home once she gets pregnant to find that they’re not very compatible. The main draw for the film seems to be Bergman’s muse, Andersson, who had a tremendous career and many interesting roles. I don’t think Monika is one of them. As an object of affection, she’s certainly believable, but as a personality, she’s awfully dull and eventually unpleasant.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(521)

Logan (2017, Directed by James Mangold) English 9

Starring Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Richard E. Grant

(9-Great Film)

Gritty. Emotional. Moving.

Superlative send-off for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (and probably Stewart’s Xavier). Drawing from classic westerns like Shane (1953)-which is featured heavily in the film-and maybe The Wild Bunch(1969)-the idea of an aging killer out for one last ride feels reminiscent of Peckinpah’s finest- Logan sets its protagonist in a dusty post-apocalyptic world (2029) where mutants have been almost completely wiped out and no new mutants have been born for some time. Logan does his best to take care of his one remaining friend, Charles Xavier, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, while also trying to poison himself to death, tired of living and watching everything around him fall apart. So, at the start of this picture, Logan is a true anti-hero, but in comes Laura, a young Mexican girl who harbors all of Logan’s mutant gifts, and Wolverine and Xavier set off on one last mission to get her to safety, as an army chases after her. Moving and brutal (the R rating is earned but not gratuitously), this Wolverine is transcendent. More than just a super-hero movie thanks to an intelligent script, and the performances-of course Jackman, but Keen as the little girl is especially impressive considering that she has to hold her own against such an iconic character.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(517)

Gorky Park (1983, Directed by Michael Apted) English 6

Starring William Hurt, Lee Marvin, Joanna Pacula, Brian Dennehy, Ian Bannen, Richard Griffiths

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(6-Good Film)

Solid. Intriguing. Unsurprising.

In Soviet Moscow, Police Detective Renko (Hurt) investigates the brutal murder of three young civilians. It looks like a KGB job, but why would the KGB have any interest in the three deceased? Renko uncovers a conspiracy that involves American businessman, Jack Osborne (Marvin), and is drawn in by the mysterious beauty, Irina (Pacula), who has ties to the three murdered. Very solid thriller despite its generic mystery plot thanks to a strong cast, an exciting femme fatale in Irina, and a fresh setting (Soviet Russia). The English speaking cast all affect Russian accents which are a little silly if you think too hard about it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(514)

A Clockwork Orange (1971, Directed by Stanley Kubrick) English 4

Starring Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Warren Clarke, Adrienne Corri, Michael Bates

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(4-Bad Film)

Bleak. Sordid. Hellish.

Adapted from Anthony Burgess’ equally memorable novel, A Clockwork Orange follows Alex (McDowell) and his gang of deviants through a hellacious and random run of violent acts in dystopian England. Justice eventually catches up to Alex, it appears, and he’s hauled off to prison, but he’s later picked for a new “aversion therapy” that leaves him lobotomized essentially, and raises questions of control and freedom of choice. I’ve never thought much of A Clockwork Orange despite its stature, its iconic imagery, or its ability to get underneath my skin. First and foremost, it’s a drag of a two-hour film. The last half is downright tedious in my opinion. Second, its approach to the violent-sexual scenes of the book is to fetishize them. A Clockwork Orange is a squalid film; one of the most overrated.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(511)